The Magic of Mt. Kawagebo and Yubeng

At 1 am Beijing time, I received this email below from my colleague Sunshine. I am used to his quick email responses to my last detailed request for a flight or a trip proposal at those ungodly hours. This is one of the hardest working staff in WildChina’s Beijing office, and I often have to prod him to go to bed.

I just have NEVER seen him being so emotional.

Here it is:

“Last evening, we went to visit Yubeng primary school in the upper Yubeng village, and sat down for a chat with the only teacher there, a Han Chinese girl from Hebei, who settled in Yubeng four years ago, now looks and acts like a local Tibetan, even her temperament.

It gradually got dark, and so enjoyable just staring at the flaming stove, drinking the ginger tea. Imagine the life of a girl who volunteers to teach in a remote Tibetan village, something I know I will never do in my life, then me, busy with work and life every day, like a clockwork rabbit, never stop, I have to say I got somehow touched, life can be so amazing and unique, here and this moment, really want to do something to help, no big promise, but something practical.

So I readily promised when she mentioned she would like to have some books about stones and plants, then she can tell the kids what the plant or stone is when they see it. I will buy the related books when get back to Beijing, welcome to join in. And if WildChina wants, can also have a WildChina library there, she refused TNC’s request of putting up the TNC exhibition there, but I guess she will be happy to offer one room for the library.

From Sunshine“

Reading his email, I could practically see the flames, smell the wood burning. Yubeng is a magical paradise, hidden in the valley of Mt. Kawagebo in Northwest Yunnan. (太子雪山)。 That’s where I took Ed Norton and Ann McBride of the Nature Conservancy to visit in 1999. Beautiful October day, on those trails, we discussed the possible name for this business I planned to start – Wild World? No, Wild Asia? No? WildChina? Yes. I wanted to build a WildChina that is dedicated to showcasing the wilder parts of China in a sustainable way.

It’s now been 10 years; I am glad WildChina’s staff still finds magic in that valley. It’s about time WildChina does something to give back to the local villagers. A few books and a library is the least we can do.

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Yes, I am the sales person

These days, I seem to be doing a lot of traveling and a lot of talking. The traveling unfortunately does not take me to the mom and pop pickle store in Dali or breathtaking valley in Shangrila, but rather New York or Boston. The talking is less about traveling to China, more about why choosing travel as a profession. People tend to be very curious after they learned that I have a Harvard MBA and used to work for McKinsey as a management consultant.

Just last week, I took our young intern, Sammie, in the DC office along to Boston, because I was the guest speaker in the Harvard Business School classroom, where the MBA students were to beat up the WildChina case, and Sammie was eager to see what a famed MBA class looked like. I don’t know what she got out of the classroom, but I got something out of the journey.

I pre-warned Sammie that I traveled light, a carryon suitcase and a purse. No checked luggage. She came prepared. Well done, I thought, till we got to the security line. I breezed through the detector and was putting on my boots at the other end. Two people cut in front of Sammie, while she was busy removing her metal bracelets, belts, laptop, digital camera… She was obviously getting frazzled. I smiled at her, and told her she should watch “Up In the Air”.  George Clooney’ Ryan definitely got the airport system worked out, and that comes with repetition.

The Blue line subway station at the airport didn’t seem anything new to Sammie. She was used to subways rides in Beijing, where she studied at one of the top universities. “Downtown Crossing” stop was an eye opener, “ WOW, 美国的地铁怎么那么破呀?´ (Wow, How can American subways look so shitty!) Yes, the walls were dirty and covered with dust accumulated over the years, the lighting dim, and there was a musician playing guitar in a corner.  Her shock was well justified, who’d have expected to see subways of this condition in America, after riding the brand new lines in Beijing. The subways stations in Beijing all sport bright lighting, with colorful ads for the newest model of cell phone and nike shoes.
“Mei jie (sister Mei, that’s how she calls me), you walk so fast, you do this all the time? Is this what an entrepreneur does?”

I told her that the English word of “Entrepreneur” glorified my job. Entrepreneur is often translated into Chinese as 创业者,or企业家,but the version I like best is 个体户-single-unit-entity which sounds like GE-TI-HU. GE-TI-HU often reminds me the dumpling vendor in the old alley way not far from my apartment in Beijing. It was a husband and wife stall. They got up at 4am to start making the fresh dumplings for the day by hand. The first clients would arrive around 6:30am, and the last ones left around 8 or 9pm at night.  They mixed their own dough, cleaned all the tables, and washed all the dishes themselves. And they made a grand total of RMB 3000/month, about $350 in those days. They had a baby and thought they had the best lives, compared to their relatives back at home in the villages near Shanghai. I went back to look for them again last year, they were gone. Where their stall was is now the construction site of a new apartment building. I just hope they have a similar stall in other parts of Beijing, or back home.

On the trip, I told Sammie that my job is, “搞业务的” – Sales or Business Development in English. A long time ago, I never really understand what 搞业务的means in Chinese. Often, it conjures up the image of a young male in cheap suits, holding a fake leather case, handing out business cards with a huge smile on his face. After years of airport travel, subway rides, and rental car rides, I finally came to terms with this title for myself. Yes, 我是搞业务的。 I am a sales person, because I am proud of what I am selling – a different experience in China.

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